Tag Archives: Rhyme Like A Girl

The Cypher: We Can Use Hip Hop to Prevent Violence

As I read this morning’s headlines I am neither shocked nor disgusted. I am sad, I am hurt but I am not surprised. Between the newscasters who said that rap songs caused slavery, Don Lemon defending the mom of one of the racist fraternity chanters in Oklahoma and the people recording a brutal beating of a teenage girl instead of intervening, I feel like we are living in a Boondocks episode. Someone put me in touch with Dave Chappelle because this stuff needs proper analysis and it’s so raw we need to laugh while we break it down. We need  to laugh to keep from crying.

Dave Chapelle

Over the past two years I’ve been diligently working to get my affairs in order and organize the vision for my life’s work. It has not been easy. After 20 years of facilitating cyphers and cypher workshops I started doing cypher trainings on how to lead nuanced cyphers that create space for transformation. In the wake of the political uprisings this work is too often seen as “soft” and not “real” activism, but I stayed committed to it because it is my ministry, the cypher is my purpose.

The cypher is a circle of sharing. In my new book, Wisdom of the Cypher, I define cypher as representing 360 degrees. It is completion of thought, the continuum, the giving and exchanging of energy, information and ideas. Whenever you see a gathering of artists in a circle or semi-circle formation, whether they are rapping, dancing, telling stories or sharing the spoken word, you are witnessing a cypher.

I proposed a focus on the cypher in two of my residencies this year but it gets inserted into larger programs because administrators and decision makers don’t get that the cypher is its own program. The cypher as I present it deserves its own platform because both youth and adults need a safe space to express themselves from their core.

My cyphers are disguised as freestyle rap, improvisational poetry and impromptu speaking workshops but are really spaces for people to release stress, confront fear and self-doubt, improve critical thinking skills, build vocabulary and confidence, heighten access to creativity and learn to think on their feet. The cypher helps us to build community while providing leaderships development and transformation.

Unable to secure the proper funding, I currently host cyphers out of my home or the home of my partner. We know that the cypher is a sacred space. We know that the best intervention is prevention. We know that as much as we complain about technology, emotional detachment and the lack of human interaction people have nowadays, that we are still human and deep down we long for moments of connection. The cypher reminds us of this need.

Akua Soadwa, founder of the Sista2Sista Summit, reached out to me this morning. Her online comments about the teenage girls fighting and what we need to do to help our youth inspired my commentary. She said that young people are dealing with spiritual warfare and that hurt youth without the right resources and support become angry, uncontrollable youth. Violence happens when people are not able to say what they want to say so they act out physically.

Prevention is some of the best intervention.

Prevention is some of the best intervention.

Of course, I am waiting for one of the newscasters to blame the melee at McDonald’s on a rap song. I’m sure that will happen at some point today, but these are the folks that know very little about Hip Hop music and culture. Part of me gets it. Hip Hop still has a stigma and when educated people formulate opinions about it based solely on mainstream media then ignorance will pervade, but I know the richness, the beauty and the spiritual consciousness that Hip Hop provides millions of people around the world. I also know how many lives it has changed and saved. This is why I am promoting the cypher, a concept my work borrows from Hip Hop culture, but is universal and relates to the human experience.

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You are a Freakin’ Idealist!

He pointed his finger and with disgust with the words rolling from his lips as he said, “The problem with you is that you are an idealist, a freakin’ idealist!”

A respected music journalist, he hurled the accusation at me.  For some reason it landed as an insult as one of the other men on the panel agreed with him. They laughed and high fived. I remember sitting there on a panel at a Hip Hop conference in Denver not knowing whether or not I was supposed to feel small. Was he questioning my intelligence? Was I wrong for being the way that I am?

Of course, I am witty and have eight years of competitive speaking under my belt so I later came back with the appropriate intellectual jab.  I caught him with his own words, but the sting stayed with me for years.

For two decades my idealism has been soaked, stewed and dipped in Hip Hop. At times it has made for an appetizing, soul feeding experience. Then there were other times where it left me feeling starved.  Even I questioned my ideas and choices. Why did I love this thing that way too often didn’t seem to love me back?

Toni Spittin' & Speaking in Kang, Botswana

Toni Spittin’ & Speaking in Kang, Botswana

There are still many who hear the words Hip Hop and the only thing that comes to mind is the latest “it” rapper or pop rap song but for those of us steeped in the culture it means so much more. This poem I wrote after hearing Kalamu ya Salaam’s poem, “The Blues is Not” inspired the piece below which best explains my perspective.

tagging your heart not walls

 hip hop is not music

it is not dance

it is not djing or writing

it is not rhyming

no voice is needed

hip hop is not beats

it is not the

boom bap, the boom-boom bap

but the way the

boom bap

feels when it vibrates through

ooh

hip hop is not song

nor is it singing

or even speaking

it is not windmills

it is not 12-inch vinyls

or 16-ounce cans of krylon paint

it is tagging

your heart

not walls

it is feeling

it is not hard core

or soft

it is not old school

or new

it is not east, west

or even worldwide

it is within

My idealism keeps bringing me back to the center of who I am and as the years go by I get to know myself even better.  The one thing that I’ve done regardless of circumstances is host and lead ciphers and cipher workshops via Freestyle Union Cipher Workshop and Rhyme like a Girl, both projects I created because I believe in the power of the spoken word, storytelling and rap as an oral tradition. I am just as passionate about the potential of using freestyle (improvisational) rap to promote social responsibility, critical thinking skills, creativity and confidence as I was when I first began in the 90s.

Some outgrow their ideals and some get stuck in them, while others attach to new ones. I am refining mine as I expand and update my vision. I no longer feel insulted by the term and I’ve discovered that I have enough “realist” running through my veins to keep me grounded. It feels good to be grown.  I now love myself as much as I love Hip Hop and have no shame in in being me.

Signed,

Toni Blackman

An Unapologetic Idealist

Click here to support Toni’s work:  http://www.gofundme.com/6mwrcg

One of the reasons why I Rhyme like a Girl….

A repost from Facebook that moved me so much I needed to share it again.  It helps to articulate one of the reasons I’m so committed to the work with the cipher, with Freestyle Union & why Rhyme like a Girl is on the top of my agenda:

“Hip-Hop is not a counterculture. Hip-hop is a reflection of American culture.
Though we may have rebelled to some degree to create our art form, the way we think about our community is really no different from the country we were birthed in. In fact, it is just a microcosm, a reiteration. We cannot say that we are creating real change and a paradigm shift if we do not think differently with rega

rds to patriarchy, misogyny, classism, racism, and all the other sundry of societal ills that must be addressed and worked on consistently.How many times have I been told I am a good dancer (for a girl)?

How many times have men told me passive aggressively OR directly to shut up but once men say the same thing they listen?

How many times have I been called out into the cipher with children AFTER the men dance?

How many times have women stood to the side during lectures, ciphers, and not side by side with the men as equal contributors and participants?

Hip-hop could be so beautifully revolutionary but it’s not because we don’t think and act any different than the oppressive forces that pushed us to either create the art form or to be a part of the community?

Let’s practice and create Hip-Hop the way it was intended: to go against the status quo and create new ways of living in this world.” –Yvonne H. Chow

OSU Hip Hop Conference

I’ve enjoyed not having to travel much during the Mercury Retrograde period.  It was a wonderful time to go into at-home-grind-mode.  The month of May brings a workshop series I’ll be facilitating with the Caribbean Culture Center in New York and a quick return to the state of Ohio.  I was at Wittenberg University and Central State University early last month. This month I’ll be performing and facilitating a Rhyme like a Girl Workshop at Ohio State University for a conference featuring the likes of Daddy-O from the legendary Stetsaonic and scholar and media personality Marc Lamont Hill. Dr. E (Elaine Richardson) is activating hip-hop elevation so let your folks in and around Columbus know…check the link below:

http://www.donewaiting.com/2011/05/02/osu-hip-hop-literacy-conference-ft-daddy-ostetsasonic-toni-blackmanus-envoy-more-may-19-20

Naturmania 2011

On April 18th, I led the Nature Raps Station at New York Restoration Project’s (NYRP) Naturmania!  The event is held in Swindler Cove Park in NYC during spring break.  Lots of kids come out in school groups, with parents and community organizations. They learn about animals, ways to protect and preserve nature, about composting, recycling, gardening, etc. It’s a wonderful approach for teaching urban youth,who mostly grow up without backyards and trees of their own, to value nature.  NYRP is doing such beautiful work as they groom an entire generation of enviromentalists, Green heads and green thumbs.

Bravo to Akiima Price and her team! I had a lovely time leading Rhyme like a Girl workshops with the young girls and also worked with a few boys during my day out at Swindler Cove. The pics include me and some of the girls, two of the girls sharing their first rap, and a b-girl from Full Circle Productions who led a dance workshop outdoors with the kids.

2011 is unfolding quite lovely

Rhyme like a Girl (RLAG) was launched as a project when I was selected to be an Open Society Institute Fellow with the Soros Foundation.  The organizational structure has changed, but the mission is still the same–to use hip hop as a way to empower girls and women!  Here are a couple of flicks from the day of the video shoot for RLAG’s biggest youth project to date.

Hip Hop Subway Series

Charlotte, CoCo Sarai, Kween Kash, and AtLas brought the feminine fire on the 4 train.  Kid Lucky’s Hip Hop Subway Series is a retro revival of lyrics, beatboxing and pure hip hop love.  The ladies were amazing.  AtLas, an emerging lyrical phenom, booked this special segment as a tribute to International Women’s Month (March) and Lucky agreed to feature Hip Hop Sisters and Rhyme Like A Girl.  Even though the coordinator was clearly honoring women some of the guys forgot and needed to be reminded.  We met on the back of the platform of the Uptown 4 Train at 42nd Street Grand Central.  By the time we got to 96th street the ladies who were on the outside of the cipher had bogarted their way in, voices resonating, lyrics elevating and their presence balancing out the testosterone in the loveliest of ways.  Kween Kash, whose freestyle always seems to be on, was in a Sunday kind of mood, but once she opened her mouth she had the train rocking.  I wish I would have had time to get all of the guys info so I could shout them out too, but it is Women’s Month so I wouldn’t want to lose the celebratory focus.   Of course, I spit a bit and will have to get footage from someone else’s camera for you to enjoy.  Just had to blog it up for you.  Wish I could package it up for you, put a stamp on it and share some of this good hip hop love, but technology hasn’t caught up with my desire.  🙂  Anyway, Hip Hop in NY ain’t what it used to be, but it’s definitely alive and well….at least I think so.  Unfortunately, the flip cam is not cooperating with WordPress right now so no Vid.  😦